Suspended SMU athlete returns to football field

Posted on 19 Jan 2006 at 7:59pm
By David Webb


Justin Willis

A Southern Methodist University Mustangs quarterback who was suspended for punching another student in an alleged anti-gay hate crime has been reinstated to the football team after one week off of the team.

But it remains unclear what if any criminal prosecution he might face.

A Dallas Police Department offense report released this week by the media relations office noted that the complainant, Jamil Beard, 19, told police officers two men hit him in the face with their fists after one called him a “fag.” The attack allegedly occurred at a party in the 6000 block of Sandhurst Lane on Oct. 6.

Beard, who suffered a one-inch laceration above his eye and a swollen lip, told officers the attack was a hate crime, according to the police report.

The Dallas Morning News reported last week that one of the suspects was Justin Willis, a freshman football player from Denton, and that the complainant was also a university student. Willis’ father, Samuel, told the newspaper that the complainant had been harassing and stalking his son.

The elder Willis said his son “snapped” because he was frustrated by the student’s actions. His son had reported the problem to school officials, he said.

“He told this kid, “‘No, leave me alone,’” Samuel Willis said. “And the kid didn’t.”

In a story published in the university newspaper, The Daily Campus, the elder Willis said Beard had harassed his son with e-mails, slandered him in public and followed him around.

Reached by telephone this week, Beard declined to comment about the incident or the newspaper report. A telephone message left at the Willis’ residence in Denton was not returned.

Southern Methodist University spokesman Kent Best confirmed this week that all three men involved in the off-campus incident were university students, and that all had been the subject of a university code of conduct investigation. He declined to comment on the status of the investigation, citing student privacy concerns.

A statement released by Southern Methodist University last week on behalf of Steve Orsini, director of athletics for the university, said the investigation of the football player was complete and that unspecified sanctions were imposed on Willis. Willis’ suspension was initially described as indefinite.

“Several factors have influenced the decision to reinstate Justin,” Orsini said. “He is remorseful and contrite and has apologized for his actions. He understands that this was not acceptable behavior, and he has been penalized.

He has been truthful and cooperative with all authorities involved in gathering facts on this matter. With lessons learned, it’s time to move on.”

The Daily Campus, which identified Beard as sophomore music performance and creative writing major, said the student declined to comment on whether he would press criminal charges against Willis.

Police officers reportedly visited the campus to investigate.

Willis told the campus newspaper his son had no plans to file harassment charges against Beard.

Lt. Rick Watson, spokesman for the Dallas Police Department, said the investigation is ongoing. The detective assigned to the case is in the process of setting up an interview with Beard, he said.

E-mail webb@dallasvoice.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, October 20, 2006.

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